Just this past weekend I was having a conversation with my daughter about our trip to the home store. We needed a little wood to convert a closet in the RV into a pantry. Walking through the isles we saw that a sheet of plywood was $50 on average – with one priced at $100!

Dimensional lumber (2×4’s) reached into the double digits.

How many studs and sheets of plywood are in your house right now? What’s worse, how many scraps were just tossed into a dumpster during construction?

I was having this discussion with my daughter because her employer is looking to build a new building with a budget of $1 million.  That amount bought a lot more building twelve months ago.

So, what is an alternative?

Over the past couple of years, I have been watching those home shows where they build tiny houses and container buildings. Since I live in a tiny house now (RV) it would not make sense to move into a 2,000 square foot home when we decide to stop roaming (no time soon it seems).

I am leaning towards a container home – you know, those buildings built out of shipping containers.  Did you know that they come to us with product, but most don’t go back? So, there are many empties available.

No one seems to know an exact number, but it is estimated that there are around 11 million empty containers in the US at any given time.

Building with these containers are faster and much less expensive. A 40 foot container can be found for under $4,000. They are 40 foot long, 8 foot wide, and 8 ½ feet tall. That’s bigger than the RV I live in now.

Stacking a few together can create a very comfortable space. After all, they are built to be stacked onto cargo ships and sent across the ocean in all types of conditions. They are known to withstand hurricane winds of up to 170 mph.  But know that the windows would need to be covered just as in a traditional home.

Container office building

Cargotecture – This landmark structure was and is Seattle’s first cargo container -based commercial building, and generated extensive media coverage at the time. Erected in 2009 in the aftermath of the Great Recession, it represents a 20-40% reduction in construction costs compared to typical commercial construction. Constructed from 12 shipping containers, it houses a double-height retail showroom gallery and 7.200 square feet of total space on the 7,000 square foot lot. It features a Green Roof, sustainable landscaping, and recycled materials for reduced environmental impact.

Containers are also naturally fire resistant. Wildfires are commonly spread when hot embers fly onto wood structures and trees. Having your home built from heavy grade steel would be much safer.

But right now, they make economic sense. You can build one without studs and plywood.  A lot of the interior can be constructed from repurposed items.  For example, a friend of mine found some old bowling alley wood flooring. How cool is that?

Another factor is the speed at which these can come together. Once the foundation is in place, the container is set down and welded together. Then it is just a matter of interior finish work.

Building a new office from containers is exciting to me, but I am not sure how you would convince a planning commission in a large city, or the board of directors.  It would save the company a LOT of money, be a showcase for others, and could be used as an educational case study. The extra money could be used to buy more land for other needs instead of plywood and 2X4’s.

Conventional practices will probably win. But in the end, we will all lose unless we can open the minds of people about changing everyday practices into more sustainable options.

I can envision the building standing strong with solar panels on the roof and xeriscape gardens for many, many years to come.

With the high costs of traditional building today, the reality may be that it is not built at all.

Sustainable building should be at the top of everyone’s mind, not tucked away and thought of as a crazy idea.